Vipasha Mittal is pursuing higher studies from what comes on top of the list of every student who aspires to study abroad, MIT. She shares her experience and some tips for those aspiring for something similar.
- When did you start preparing for higher studies? What was the motivation?
It was near the end of my third year when I got really enthusiastic towards pursuing higher studies after BTech. I really enjoyed most of my courses in electrical engineering ever since the second year, and had the chance to work on really interesting projects which further enhanced my motivation to pursue the field further. Moreover, during my internship, I realised that I would definitely want to pursue academics more at this stage, which was crucial in my decision to pursue higher studies.
- What did you learn at IIT that helped you get the opportunity? Any courses/projects you’d like to mention?
IIT has given me a tremendous pool of resources that have been instrumental in getting this opportunity for me. There were a few excellent courses that have been a great learning experience and motivated me to pursue electrical engineering further. In particular, I learnt a lot from courses on analog electronics, mixed signal circuit design, and machine learning. Pursuing research projects under the guidance of professors in IITD exposed me to inspiring research in academia, and the opportunities of core industrial intern helped me understand the nuances of the industry as well. I gained a lot of insight into my field during BTech because of these opportunities, which played a major role in helping me get this opportunity.
- What was the selection procedure? And what was your experience with it?
The first part of the selection procedure is the online application, with deadlines around mid December for Electrical Engineering (The deadlines differ for every branch). The application consists of various parts, the first of which is a Statement of purpose where we are required to highlight our motivation for pursuing graduate studies, and our future goals. I found this to be the most time consuming part in the process, as a good SOP forms a critical part of the selection process. Next, you require a minimum of 3 Letters of Recommendation, which can be from academic or industrial sources, and also need to submit your CV and transcript. Many universities also require certain test scores, typically GRE and TOEFL. I gave these tests in the month of August. MIT applications do not require GRE scores, however most of the other universities in the US typically require GRE scores to be submitted. Some universities also require a personal history statement, which is to be different from your SOP. Next, for most PhD applications, typically there is an interview, which is either taken by a professor, or a selection committee. This is done for the shortlisted candidates from the online application, generally from January to March. In a few cases, you may get an acceptance offer directly without the interview. For MS applications however, typically there are no interviews.
My experience with the whole process was quite good. The entire process was mostly online, so there was no hassle of any paperwork (Some universities however do require a hard copy of the transcript). As you start writing your SOP, you give genuine thought to and become more clear with why you want to pursue higher studies, and what your future goals are. Preparing for the GRE and TOEFL helped me in improving my vocabulary as well.
- What were your expectations from institution and how is it faring out?
My first semester starts from September, so haven’t really experienced the institute as of now to be able to answer this question.
- Is there any sort of CV requirements and what would you tell the students right now who wish to pursue higher studies? Any specific do’s or don’t s?
There isn’t really one absolute criterion on which the selection is based, it’s a combination of a number of factors. While a good CGPA certainly helps a lot, it is not the sole basis of selection. Having publications in your desired field of study is a definite plus point. Research projects portraying a significant contribution from your end go a long way in showcasing your aptitude for research, and thus make you a good candidate for consideration. Moreover, the strength of your letter of recommendations is also a significant criterion. For the students who would be applying this year, I’d suggest giving GRE and TOEFL by August or latest by early September (if their universities require GRE and TOEFL scores). This is because many students tend to have a fallacy that the selection is entirely on the basis of these scores, which is not true. Your overall application matters a lot. You should give it time, get your applications reviewed from people who have already gone through the process. Also, prepare a list of universities you wish to apply to by August so you have an idea of the deadlines, application fees (varies from around 90 USD to 120 USD for universities in the US). Moreover, it’s good to keep your university list ready before giving GRE, since you can send your scores to 4 universities for free when you give your GRE. Talk to your recommenders, and also ask for their suggestion on universities to apply to. While making your university list, there are generally a few ambitious ones, the ones you have a reasonable chance of getting in, and a few safe case universities. Also, do not read another person’s SOP before writing your first draft as it tends to bias your ideas. There are a typical set of questions that are generally expected to be answered from your SOP – you’ll find a number of websites and blogs on the same. You can refer to other SOPs for refinement once you write your first draft.
- Okay so last question, what would you tell the present students who are inclined towards research to do? And not do? Anything specific that IIT helped?
If you’ve already decided to pursue higher studies and wish to go to universities that require a GRE score, it’s best to give GRE as soon as possible since the score is applicable for 5 years. TOEFL scores are applicable for 2 years. If you’re inclined towards research, you should definitely devote your time towards research projects either under the guidance of professors from IITD, or doing research interns in different universities and organisations. According to me, it’s important that you don’t leave projects at their nascent stage, simply to move on to another one so as to get more number of projects on your CV. The quality of the work you did matters more. Also, research takes time, so when you pursue projects for a longer time, you would also get a better insight into whether you want to pursue research or not. Essentially, try to get as much exposure, by pursuing projects and taking up extra courses besides those recommended. (However don’t end up taking too many courses, since for good research work, you have to devote time to it). Moreover, it’s a continuous learning process, so keep reading about the latest work going on in your field.